Person of the Week: Mikhail Anshakov

posted 29 Jun 2015, 02:39 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 29 Jun 2015, 03:25 ]
Mikhail Anshakov is director of the Society for the Protection of Consumers' Rights, also known as Public Control. On 22 June 2015 Russian authorities blocked the website of Public Control after it published a memo setting out difficulties that might arise for Russian citizens if they visit Crimea. As Human Rights Watch reported, the Prosecutor General’s Office said that by calling Crimea an “occupied territory” in the memo and urging tourists to abide by Ukrainian laws, the organization sought to undermine Russia’s territorial integrity in violation of anti-extremism legislation. The Prosecutor General’s Office also said that it had forwarded the case to the investigation authorities to open a criminal inquiry with regard to making public calls "aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation” - a crime under Russian law punishable by up to five years in prison if made online. Human Rights Watch published a statement that the blocking of Public Control's website and other harassment of the group violate the right to freedom of expression. In an interview with Radio Svoboda Mikhail Anshakov said the guidance was drawn up in response to numerous complaints by Russians about the impossibility of obtaining a visa for another country after a visit to Crimea. Anshakov noted that neither the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor Rostourism who should give relevant advice, warn Russians about the possible negative consequences of a visit to Crimea. Human Rights Watch called on the Russian authorities should stop blocking the group’s website and end their continuing assault on free expression online. On 24 June 2015 the authorities blocked the LiveJournal blog of Mikhail Anshakov where he had republished the memo on travel to Crimea. On June 23 President Vladimir Putin accused Public Control of “serving the interests of foreign states” and said the legislation on NGOs should be further tightened to stop foreign countries interfering in domestic Russian affairs. Subsequently in comments published both on his LiveJournal Account and his Facebook page Mikhail Anshakov said that statements by President Putin about Public Control were 'ill-informed' and showed signs of 'paranoia'. 

Photo: Facebook

Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: “This is a particularly chilling example of Russia’s anti-extremism legislation abused by the government to stifle independent criticism. The categorization of Crimea’s status is a matter of international law, and while it may generate debate, to sanction a group and threaten them with a serious criminal case for using the legal term ‘occupied territory’ is outrageous.”

Mikhail Anshakov, director of Public Control, told Human Rights Watch: "We received no warning from either the prosecutors or the media and communications watchdog. Moreover, the statement published on the Prosecutor General’s website refers to our memo but does even not identify our organization by name.… We only found out post-factum, in the evening of June 22, when people started calling and saying they could no longer access our website. Unless the website is unblocked promptly, we will complain to a court of law. As regards the possibility of a criminal prosecution, if it happens we will also have no other choice but to fight them in court."

Russia: Independent Group Targeted Over Crimea, Human Rights Watch, 23 June 2015
Mikhail Anshakov's Facebook page: Facebook
'Mikhail Anshakov: "Mr Putin is badly informed, since OZPP does not have the official status of a foreign agent and does not receive funding from abroad",' Rights in Russia, 23 June 2015
'Роскомнадзор блокирует сайт Общества защиты прав потребителей,' Radio Svoboda, 22 June 2015